Two years ago Matt Ford won the BMI Apprentice of the Year for pitched roofing, a competition that taught him skills he still values today. Roofing Today editor Claire Griffiths caught up with him on site in Leeds.
For Matt, the two-day competition revealed that there was more to being a successful roofer than just the installation. “I’d recommend entering the competition to everyone because it teaches you the things you don’t learn in college and takes you right out of your comfort zone,” he says. “That’s why it’s so different from other competitions. You realise that you’ve got to be able to present to the customer and understand where they’re coming from. You’re the receptionist, the accounts department, and you’re marketing too.” He says these skills benefit employers too because they can then rely on the apprentice to be able to represent them and add value to the business.
Like so many former competitors, Matt believes that taking part in the competition boosted his confidence and enabled him to make the most of his opportunities. “One of the biggest lessons I learnt from the competition was the importance of networking, making contacts, and having the confidence to approach people that I didn’t have before,” he says. “That goes for everything from using LinkedIn to sourcing materials to handling social media.”
Matt says that this skill comes into everything that he does, from business to charity. He is committed to the charity Band of Builders (BoB) – “run by tradespeople, for tradespeople” – which aims to help members of the construction industry community when times get tough.Through LinkedIn, one of Matt’s contacts donated the EPDM single-ply roofing to one of the charity’s projects. In this particular case the charity was helping out Chris Joy, a plasterer who was diagnosed in 2018 aged 40 with Cerebellar Ataxia, a rare condition which only affects 10,000 people in the UK. The EPDM will roof the shelter being built to house Chris’s disability scooter as part of modifications to the driveway to enable him to be more mobile and independent.
Matt’s employer at his time of winning the competition, the Bradford-based social housing provider Incommunities, also benefited from the skills, knowledge and contacts he
acquired, making him a superb asset to the business: a fantastic advocate who’s great at dealing with clients, contractors, suppliers and the general public, while delivering quality roofs for the organisation.
Fast-forwarding through Matt’s final year at Leeds College of Building and his work at Incommunities, Matt found himself at a crossroads: whether to continue into management or take up the directorship of The Purple Roofing Company. As you can see from the photos, Matt chose The Purple Roofing Company, and the name was a very deliberate choice. “What I’d learnt at the competition is that you’ve got to think about marketing. Everyone’s upping their game with online media and Facebook so I wanted something a bit more than Matt Ford Roofing, something that could be branded,” he says.
“I researched company names in construction and they’re usually red or black, so purple stands out. So, we have purple branded shirts, the van’s wrapped in purple. It’s a bit like the AA being yellow or Dyno-Rod being orange.” Matt’s idea is that potential customers will subconsciously register the name so that it will be what they look for when they need roofing work done. In the meantime, his networking has paid off with the company’s first large contract, to re-roof a primary school in Armley, Leeds. “It’s a big outlay for materials for a small company but it’s worth it because there’s three weeks work there, whereas a standard residential re-roof is only a week,” he says. Again, the BMI competition prepared him for the challenges of cash flow as part of it was to present a business plan. “I take a 25% deposit seven days before work starts,” Matt explains. “That helps with the cash flow but also lets the customer know that I’m serious about turning up to the job and reassures me that I’m going to get paid. A lot of people shy away from this, but I think it’s a necessity to both sides.”
Matt has also taken to heart the importance of being your own accountant and knowing where all the money has been spent. Whilst he was preparing to start his own business he invested in a finance system and made sure he could use it. Now he knows how much it costs to run the company in terms of insurance and similar underlying expenses so this can be added to the costs of labour and materials.
Taking the same approach to the rest of the business, Matt uses a proprietary system, ServiceM8, for creating job quotes, invoicing and payment collection, and keeping tabs on what quotes have been issued to clients. “That’s a big time-saver for me because it’s all there, at the click of a button.”
For Matt, all this might not have happened if it had not been for the BMI Apprentice of the Year competition, and he is very keen for his own apprentice, Morgan Wood, to enter. “When he goes to Leeds College of Building I’ll encourage him to enter,” he explains. “As this business grows it might not always be me that’s turning up to peoples’ houses, so it’s important that everyone who works in the business can present themselves professionally.
“So, I think of the competition as an investment in my own business, something that adds value to everyone who goes through it.”